Technology has made our lives easier but has also brought serious risks. Today predators attempt to get to your children and entice them into hurtful relationships. How can we protect our children? Parents need to be informed.
John DiGirolamo has researched internet safety and has published several books. He gave information from his book, It is Not About the Predator.
Cynthia: Technology has made much of our work easier. When I grew up, we didn’t have microwaves and cell phones. We had to put things in the oven and to be able to imagine putting a plate in the microwave or a paper plate in microwave is amazing. But today we also have the Internet and as far as our children are concerned that creates a lot of danger. We want to make sure that our kids are safe because the world is a very different place than when we grew up. Today I have John Gerolamo he is a man who has written on safety on the Internet and human trafficking. I had the mistaken impression for years the human trafficking happened elsewhere or that it happened on the border. But it happens right in your house because you have an internet. So, John is going to tell us a little bit about what these people are doing. Welcome, John.
John: Hey, thanks for having me on the show. I really appreciate it.
Cynthia: Tell us about what is happening out there on the Internet.
John: Sure. So, you know the I think the first thing to kind of level with the audience to help them understand is that today’s kid and teen is different from any other generations. They’ve grown up with technology since day one, and they view having many friends and followers as a goal. I view that as a problem because I guarantee that if your high schooler has 1000 friends which is not that uncommon, they’ll have somebody in there that’s not really your friend. It’s a predator. It’s somebody that they don’t know, but today’s team looks at online relationships in a similar way to kind of face-to-face real relationships, and that’s kind of different than other generations. And so, they’re a little bit more trusting of people that they’ve met online, and these predators are out there looking for trouble. You know your kid may not be looking for trouble, but I guarantee trouble is looking for them.
Cynthia: So, what do these predators look like, and what do they do?
John: As far as what they look like you really can’t tell what a predator looks like just from visuals or physical descriptions. Now what they’ll do is, they will set up many times a fake profile of somebody of similar age of similar interests. So, for example, if your teenager is really into soccer, they’re going to set up fake profiles like that, and if you look at stats from say you know the National Center of missing and exploited children, they point out that predators are looking for three things they want to extort money out of that teenager. They want to get explicit pictures, or they want meet for some kind of encounter. And so that’s what they’re after. Sometimes they’re very quick about what they’re wanting and then other times they’re going to groom that person over a longer period. They’re going to typically send out hundreds of friend requests seeing who’s going to respond to them, and the teenager that does respond is the one that they’re going to zoom in on.
Cynthia: So, you talked about grooming, and I’ve heard a lot about that. Can you describe the grooming process?
John: Sure, so the first thing they’re really going to want to do is they’re going to try to gain some type of trust with that person. A lot of times a teenager will go online because they’re bored or they’re lonely, and as soon as the predator finds out what’s going on in that person’s life that’s when they’re going to lie to them. They’re going to say, especially if they have a fake profile, that they have similar interests. They’re going to want to befriend that person and affirm whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re thinking. They’re also going to try to isolate that person from their friends and family. They’re going to say that you know the predator is the only one who really cares about them and really understands them. A lot of times that’s going to lure that teen away from their real family and their real friends, and those are some of the tactics that they use to initially get that trust and get them really manipulated.
Cynthia: So this would start with perhaps a friend request or maybe another friend would recommend this person? How does that work?
John: Yeah, it’s typically a friend a friend request, so for example, I interviewed an undercover police officer who went online with a fake profile of a 13-year-old girl. He had people sending this 13-year-old a friend request literally within the first hour, and within that same day, he had people asking this 13 year old out for a date. As the profile owner he would reply and say what do you mean by a date you know I’m only 13, I don’t know how to drive I must ride my bike where we’re going. They quickly can get into wanting to meet with them, and you know this officer met this person out of motel and probably arrested him. On that guys computer they found that he had just sent out hundreds of random friend requests, and about 90% had accepted that friend request without question because again a lot of these kids and teens they want to have a large number of friends and followers. That’s how you kind of value your popularity of how many likes did you get in your Snapchat story or something like that. So, the teens are vulnerable to that.
Cynthia: So they are going to immediately ask for a visit somewhere I mean that’s pretty bold?
John: Right it is, and it and again, they are sending this out to hundreds of people. It just depends on who is responding to them and if they find a response, they’re going to try to figure out who this person is, and they’re going to give them lots of compliments. They’re going to say you’re so pretty you’re so talented only I understand. They’re really trying to kind of feed that person’s ego, and it’s always been difficult growing up. It’s always been difficult being a teenager, but in today’s world the kids really look for that online affirmation. The predators know that, and they’re going to focus on that.
Cynthia: Does the predator already know where that person lives because they might be too far away to have a personal meeting?
John: Yeah, so a lot of times when people set up a profile, they will say what school they go to. So somebody could easily do a Google search. I’ve seen reports where the predators will drive hours across state lines just to meet up with somebody who’s agreed to meet up. So that long distance isn’t necessarily a deterrent, but yeah clearly, they’re going to look for somebody who’s local and a lot of people will do that. Many times, a predator will say something like, “Let me send you a gift,” and they send that person an Amazon pack.
Cynthia: And then they give them an address.
John: If you send a package, you know that person’s address. So yeah so they’ll do little tricks like that.
Cynthia: Wow, that’s scary. Should we be teaching our kids to be skeptical of people that give them compliments online?
John: Absolutely. And typically, what will happen is a predator will look for somebody in a very popular application, say Snapchat or TikTok, or some kind of game, and once they do that, they’re going to want to go into a private chat room. Or go onto a messaging service. That’s where they get that one-on-one online connection through these chat rooms, and as a parent what you must, well there’s lots of things you should be doing. But one of the things that you should be doing is talking to your kid about some of these predator tactics and to say if you don’t really know that person if you haven’t met that person you know live and really know who they are, then you really shouldn’t be talking to them online, because it’s so easy to slip up give out information. What school do you go to? What’s your address? Things like that.
Cynthia: OK, well we’ll talk more about the next interview about that. This is really good information. I appreciate your time. His book is It’s Not About the Predator. His website is here. I reach out to moms and talk about all kinds of topics that they need. I get right to the core of the issue. That’s why this is Heart of the Matter. I’m offering God’s timeless wisdom.